By Alex Labidou
90:00 Soccer writer Alex Labidou will be following the New York Red Bulls this season providing his insights. Here is the first blog entry.
Can Macoumba Kandj deliver on his potential?
To call the Red Bulls last season a disappointment would be a huge understatement. Point blank the team was embarrassing in its final season in Giants Stadium. After scoring a plethora of goals in their title run the previous season, the team could only muster 27 total goals from a lineup that features former MLS MVP runner-up forward Juan Pablo Angel. The team’s defense which was sparked the team’s success during the MLS playoffs the previous year also seemed erratic and disorganized. Changes were needed and the Red Bulls organization decided to take a huge gamble on new head coach Hans Backe. While having huge successes in the Danish top flight, Backe had never been a coach in a top league in Europe often being an assistant manager to prominent Swedish manager Sven-Goran Erickson. Considering the names that were being mentioned that included former German national team manager Jurgen Klinsman and the decent job that current assistant coach Richie Williams had done in the team’s final eight games, Backe wasn’t the sexy pick. However, Backe has proven during the team’s 7-0-3 preseason showing that included a magnificent 3-1 victory over Brazilian powerhouse Santos that practicality might sometimes be the best option.
The combination of a new voice leading the team and its gorgeous brand new 200 million dollar stadium has led many optimistic fans to believe that the team can become a dark horse playoff contender this season. Here is my take on how the team can reach its goals this season:
Three things to be excited about:
1. Red Bulls Arena: History has proven that in American sports, nothing can be more monumental than a change of scenery. Look at when the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee and became the Titans, the team instantly went from being a league laughingstock to a Superbowl contender. Local New Yorkers shouldn’t even have to recall that far back as their Yankees sparked by a new stadium and acquisitions won the 2009 World Series. Point is, sometimes change is good and the players so far have seemed to put their dreadful 2009 campaign behind them.
2. Hans Backe: He might have been the practical choice but he won’t remind MLS fans of previous foreign flops like Ruud Gullit. Backe’s success in Denmark came without substantial transfer budgets and the 57-year old Swedish coach has a eye for talent as well as working with young players. The team worked significantly on its defense and ball movement in the off-season, it wasn’t uncommon to see the team’s fullbacks generating offense. Santos’ super prospect Neymar looked extremely frustrated by the team’s tight organization in the back.
3. A Year of Experience and Flesh Blood: In many ways last season the Red Bulls tried to do too much. They wanted to rebuild but yet maintain its success from the previous season and the combination of the two led to disaster. A year later with less pressure, the young guys like Macoumba Kandji, Dane Richards and Jeremy Hall should hopefully improve. Backe’s new additions such as defenders Roy Miller and second round pick Tim Ream as well as midfielder Joel Lindpere should also keep a competitive atmosphere on the team. Lindpere has already made his presence felt as Red Bulls Stadium’s first scorer. After the game, Lindpere discussed the importance of forgetting last season.
“I wasn’t around here last season, so everything that happened before I don’t care about,” said Lindpere. “We have a good communication with the players and staff and we have to move forward with that.”
Three things to be concerned about:
1. Unnecessary Distractions: A lot of people are buzzing about the team’s new stadium and also its open designated player slot. With names like Thierry Henry, Raul and Patrick Viera being bandied about as marquee signings, it is easy for a team that still has many young players on it to get distracted. Generally speaking, a team on a rebound wants to start off its season as low key as possible but that clearly will not be the case this season.
2. A Brutal Opening Schedule: The MLS hasn’t given the Red Bulls any favors in terms of its early schedule. The team opens at home to Chicago then travels to Seattle and Chivas before coming back home to face FC Dallas and league debutant Philadelphia. Aside from Dallas, there aren’t any easy wins in the opening five games.
3. Has Angel Lost His Wings? As last season progressed it seemed like Angel didn’t have as much in the tank and there were whispers that the 35 year old Columbian has passed his peak. With Kandji still developing his talents and no other consistent option available unless the aforementioned signings become a reality, a lot is resting on Angel’s ability to rebound from a subpar season.
Season Prediction: 3rd in the Eastern Conference,
View From The Laboratory is written by Alex Labidou. Throughout the 2010 MLS, he will provide insights on the New York Red Bulls as well as inside rumors and hilarious tales of irrelevance. Labidou joined 90:00 Soccer as a contributor in August 2009 and has worked as a journalist for VIBE, NBA.com, ABC News (20/20) and New York Newsday. He can be reached at AlexLabidou@gmail.com.